As if the 2020 off-season wasn’t already going to be strange, what with the October start date and flat salary cap, it also marked a new age in free agency negotiations with the removal of the free agent interview period. Well, it seems this new age may be short-lived. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reports that the NHL’s general managers have already discussed bringing back the interview period, with 48- and 72-hour periods being considered. Such a reinstatement would need to be approved by the NHLPA as well, as it is a collectively-bargained policy.
The interview period, also known as “legal tampering”, occurs just prior to the new league year beginning and the opening of free agency (which until this year has been July 1). It is a period of time in which teams can contact unrestricted free agents and their representation to discuss potential contract terms before the market officially opens. This policy, agreed upon in the previous CBA, led to a rush of contracts when the market opened, implying that teams and UFA’s had not only discussed contract terms, but agreed in principle. Upset that the interview period was being abused, the two sides eliminated the construct when the new CBA was ratified back in July.
Just a few months later, the teams want it back. This off-season has been much slower than usual, going all the way back to the first day the market opened. Being unable to discuss contract terms has undoubtedly impacted GM’s abilities to read market value and plan accordingly. The result has been a number of notable free agents – including two top-10 and 14 top-50 UFA’s per PHR – remaining unsigned several weeks into free agency.
Especially while dealing with the flat cap, this unpredictable market has helped no one. It is understandable why the teams would like it back and it is safe to assume that the players will agree. The interview period structure could certainly stand to be a bit stricter and perhaps a more limited time frame would also help avoid abuse, but a cold opening to free agency seems unsustainable moving forward.